Does killing Nazis ever get old? Actually, yes. Eventually. That is, unless they’re supernatural Nazis. Hence, we have Call of Duty: World at War’s zombie-fighting mode, as well as a little thing called Wolfenstein. Nazis are best consumed (via bullets) when they are presented as cartoonishly as possible, and what better way than to amp them up with Tesla-coil implants and crackling undeadifying energy? Gather ‘round young ‘uns, and let ol’ grampa GR tell you a story.
Before you kids got your filthy hands on the likes of Halo, or Killzone, or hell, even Counter-Strike, the mother of all first-person shooters, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, was all the rage. No, wait: make that Wolfenstein 3D. Wrong again? How about Castle Wolfenstein? Well, sort of. The game that started the series that begat a genre, way back in 1981, wasn’t an FPS at all. So instead let’s jump back (forward) to Wolfenstein 3D. The whole “3D” part was kind of a lie, at least by today’s standards. Everything was represented by 2D sprites, but HOLY CRAP FIRST PERSON VIEW.
Ever since that fateful release, gamers by the millions have been playing as cameras with guns taped to the bottom of them (up through the Doom era) or cameras with guns taped to the bottom-right of them (the anatomically correct current era). Every “looking through the eyes of someone with invisible legs” game out there owes a debt to the Wolfenstein franchise, and hoooo boy, is that a legacy to live up to.
If you’re judging it on the basis of how revolutionary it is compared to Wolfenstein 3D, the answer is no, not by a long shot. There aren’t any new ideas here. The gimmick of jumping between dimensions and using associated powers amounts to nothing more than differently named and different-looking ways to use slo-mo, shields, double-damage, and reveal secret doors. We’re guessing the Veil’s look is a result of someone on the dev team having a fetish for Native American jewelry.
However, not every game needs to set the shooter world upside down to be good. It just needs to be fun. And Wolfenstein surely is. The crumbly, creepy world of bombed-out Nazi Germany combined with Indiana Jones-style paranormal elements has been the series’ trademark, and Wolfenstein pulls it off while making it look easy. There’s a nice gradual curve to it, where the game lulls you in with “just another World War II shooter” opening levels, before letting the supernatural elements seep in.
The entire game takes place around a hub city known as Isenstadt, where of course the Nazis are up to their usual occult shenanigans. This time, they’re harvesting purty crystals in order to power super-mega somethings in order to conquer “Ze world!” (people say “ze” a lot in this game). It seems that beyond the earth dimension is a place known as the Black Sun, and between the two dimensions is the Veil. On Wolfenstein’s Earth, everything is gray and brown. In the Veil and the Black Sun, everything is turquoise. And glowy-wispy.
Eventually, our oh-so-very-80s-named hero BJ Blazcowicz will get a hold of a medallion that provides access to the Veil and its powers. Veil Sight, the first power, turns everything blue-green and speeds you up (for some reason). Aside from revealing secret doors and ladders, it also is home to the geists – floating, non-aggressive alien things that really boil down to invisible red barrels. And this is on top of the actual red barrels lying around the world.
Later on, you’ll get your standard slo-mo power, and then your shield power, and finally your uber-damage power. All of which, naturally, turn the world turquoise. These powers burn up the medallion’s meter quickly, but there are barely-visible spots sprinkled everywhere that recharge your power (and are more visible if you use Veil Sight. We actually ended up using the Veil powers hardly at all. Other than moments where the game flat-out requires you to use them, you can get by fine with your guns and grenades. If you’re the type of lazy gamer like us who won’t do something unless a game kills you if you don’t (or makes the power really, really fun), consider playing on Hard mode from the offset. Take note, though, that the game is decently challenging on Normal difficulty.